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GOP Ready for ‘Stark’ Policy Choices; Health Reform, Spending in Sights

Flags at the Capitol

As new and old members of Congress gather in Washington this week to sort out their agenda after the midterm elections, a key Republican House member is making it clear his colleagues are in a hurry to send signals that things will be done differently.

The member of Congress, whose name and title can’t be identified because that was a condition of the session with reporters, said the plan is to hold a vote on a repeal of the Obama health care reform law before the president’s State of the Union address in January. The reason is essentially to put Mr. Obama on notice, even though the surviving Democratic majority in the Senate and a potential presidential veto ensure that an entire repeal won’t happen.

Republicans will also move aggressively on three other fronts:

  1. To “defund” — or not provide federal dollars for — important parts of the health care law.

  2. To use any oversight powers to monitor details of how the law is being carried out by various federal agencies, confident that what they view as flaws will quickly become evident.

  3. To support the growing number of state legal challenges to the constitutionality of the law.

Another priority is to quickly look for ways to cut government spending by the $100 billion promised in the GOP Pledge to America, a blueprint rolled out during the fall campaign season.

The first serious test of the new GOP leadership will likely be a vote in early 2011 to raise the debt limit of the U.S. government, this member said. Republicans have no appetite to shut down the government, as happened in the mid-1990s under Republican congressional leadership, but they will look for any way they can to tie spending cuts to such a vote, once it is scheduled.

There will be a search, the member said, for “real substantive recissions,” or cuts, and the size will matter as much as “what it is.” Asked for examples, the answer was “something of visibility” — like public broadcasting.

The member added there is no way to know for sure if such cuts will happen.

The same rationale was used for wanting to institute different rules in the operation of the House of Representatives — such as bringing cameras into the Committee on Rules hearing room, and having entire proposed bills read word-for-word on the House floor. The member said such a change had been “a good applause line back home” with district constituents, even if the House chamber remains empty during such readings, as typically is the case now.

Despite that, the member’s response was, “we want a process that is much more transparent than the Democrats have had,” and accused them of “bastardizing” the House rules with too much secrecy and inadequate time to study legislation.

The member again mentioned the importance of public perceptions, when discussing Democrats’ move to keep House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as their leader in the new Congress. “The optics are phenomenal” for us; that the party that lost 70 seats in the midterm elections has elected the same leader. “We don’t even need to change the ads!”

Still, there was no claim that the election results mean that Republicans have “won.” Instead, this House member said the message is only that “Democrats lost,” and “the only way we retain the House and win the Senate is to be very clear and forthright and stark in our policy choices,” adding, “people don’t care about Republicans or Democrats; but about what gets done.”

Finally, despite the plans to assert Republican priorities in every way possible, the key House member said there is a desire to work with the other party, and with President Obama. If Democratic Party lawmakers invite new House Speaker John Boehner to address their party caucus, he will do so – something it was asserted current House Speaker Pelosi did not do when invited by the Republican Party caucus.

“Most people are not ideologues; they come to Washington to work together and get things done … it’s only after they get here, they find out how hard that is to do.”

Follow Judy Woodruff on Twitter.

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